The Summer of Sentimental Travel: How Brands Can Bring People Together Again

By Jim Johnson, Vice President of Account Planning for

After a year-long hiatus, summer travel is back in full force this year as vaccination efforts continue and eager travelers hit the road to visit family and friends.

More than three in four Americans plan to travel for leisure in the next three months, and they expect to take about two trips on average during this period. Ninety percent of these summer travelers expect at least one trip to be an overnighter, and more than half plan to stay in a hotel. To capitalize on this opportunity, travel brands must make sure their marketing outreach is dialed in to the motivations driving the uptick.

The pandemic crippled travel last summer, with day trips the only respite for many people. Among the things they missed most were seeing friends and family, dining out at a restaurant, and in-person celebrations. With the country opening back up and vaccination levels rising, face-to-face reconnection with loved ones will be a primary driver of travel in the coming months.

This is encouraging—first and foremost for the hope it engenders for a reversal of the global travel industry’s 54% decline in 2020—but also for the opportunity it presents to boost consumer confidence in the safety and integrity of travel itself.

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A network of travel ambassadors

When trips to visit loved one’s cut off from face-to-face interaction during the pandemic go smoothly, it instills a sense of a return to normalcy. This can trigger a network effect, with early travelers acting as ambassadors to make others more comfortable about resuming travel. A PwC survey found that once consumers take their first trip, they are twice as likely to book another.

All travel brands, even international ones, have a local presence, and that is where they should focus their marketing efforts right now. Brands should be targeting customers looking for a quick road trip or weekend getaway. It’s a great way for them to get their feet wet again, and for brands to refamiliarize travelers with all they have to offer.

The best way to reach these prospects is through video. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents in a recent study said they almost always watch a digital video of a travel destination before booking a trip; 74% said digital video ads allowed them to discover new travel opportunities.

Video-driven brand experiences spur action 

The study also found that professionally produced ads are three times more effective than user-generated content in encouraging viewers to take action after watching. Digital video ads can drive omnichannel campaigns and work well on CTV. Sixty-five percent said they visited an advertiser’s website after seeing a CTV travel ad, and 74%  took two or more actions (e.g., discussing the ad with someone or conducting further research) after viewing the ad.

While digital video advertising is inherently powerful, relevance and personalization are keys to unleashing its full potential. More than 70% of consumers say they will only engage with personalized messaging, and 80% say they are more likely to do business with a brand that offers personalized experiences. These are the polestars that should guide travel brands’ video marketing efforts.

The leisure travel experience has three stages—inspiration, information, and anticipation—and video is a natural fit across all three. Digital video is particularly effective in this venue when it creates opt-in experiences for viewers.

More than 40% of travelers in a recent survey said they turn to online media for inspiration. During this phase, it’s critical for travel brands to capture the feelings that certain places evoke. The sound and motion of video helps viewers immerse themselves in a particular environment, be it soothing waterfalls or buzzing nightlife.

These videos should function as teasers, enticing viewers to explore further at their own discretion. Interactivity opens the door to the information phase, which is mission-critical for all travel brands right now. Lingering concerns about safety, regulations and vaccination requirements at destinations mean consumers are hungry for relevant information.

Strategies for brands to connect with travelers 

At a time when trust in traditional media and government is declining and business is seen as the only institution that is both competent and ethical, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, brands are well-positioned to provide that information. Video can serve as a central hub for it, as well as for information about pricing, special offers, upgrades, etc.

Brands should reengage travelers during the anticipation phase with videos highlighting destination activities, excursions, and amenities. This is a good time to introduce them to digital concierge services to make their stay more personalized. A mobile app lets them take care of many things that formerly required a call or visit to the front desk. It’s also a great way for brands to collect data on individual travelers’ activities, preferences, and expectations.

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Relevance and personalization should be the guiding principles for video ads through all three stages. Brands should start by defining their audience (family traveler, solo, R&R, etc.) then refining it with additional attributes and targeting data (distance to location, travelers’ history, spending tiers) that align with their business and campaign objectives. The type of destination will dictate many of these variables.

Different types of travelers may visit the same destination for different reasons, and individual travelers may switch personas (combining leisure and business, for example) during a trip. So it makes sense for video creative to showcase the full palette of a destination’s activities and attractions.

The summer of sentimental travel presages a broader-based upturn in all types of travel, and digital video marketing can help travel brands capitalize on those opportunities.

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